President Obama doesn't tweet non-stop. He shouldn't. After all, the leader of free world has the business of the keeping the United States safe and solvent to contend with. But because he was the first presidential candidate to "socialize" an election, pundits wonder what happened to the pre-presidency levels of social media activity once he took office. Some contend that he abandoned the vast tribe he built once he it had served his purpose.
President Obama's recent Twitter blunder hints to the possibility that using social media only when you need others to do something for you is usury -- and hence a flawed social media strategy. But there's something deeper afoot here. It seems there are ways we like to be engaged to achieve political ends. Twitter may be too terse and too immediate for relaying more complex issues. It may be showing us its limitations as a medium for protest and debate. But it's perfect for affirming your approval of a candidate.
Twitter may be the digital culture's happy-talk medium. Save the hard news for longer format social media is what I'm thinking.
True, social media is about "engagement." That means different things to different people, but at the end of the day, the key to effective engagement is that everyone involved feels that he or she is getting something out of the interaction. If you want social media to work for you, you have to provide good reasons for people to tweet and re-tweet that gives them relevance among their own audiences. The recent debate about the debt ceiling was a revelation to many people. It showed beyond a shadow of a doubt just how broken Washington is. It's hopelessly partisan, and a costly juggernaut, operating untethered to the American public's daily reality of fragile mortgages and lack of employment. So why waste a tweet on that?
For the rest of us mere mortals, it's important to remember that the 'relationships' we form through social channels not only need nurturing to keep them alive, but they need useful expressions. People need to benefit, directly or indirectly from the messages we all put out there. Otherwise it's just more noise. Because even if the leader of the free world can't motivate people to take up his cause in a time of crisis, most individuals and businesses can't either. Social media is getting more, not less demanding. It requires constancy and content -- not "cut and run."
Patricia Martin is the author of Tipping the Culture, a guide to using social media as a tool for engagement.